Humanity During Conflict: Mighty Eighth Airmen Interactions With Civilians and Soldiers in Europe.

Section IV: Stories from Belgium and the Netherlands

By: Michael Elmore

Reproduction Photograph of Wagner with members of the Belgian Underground. Seperate notion reads “Leon, Jacques, myself.” James Wagner collection | National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force.
The area around Belgium and the Netherlands was the site of several crashes, as aircrews often had to pass over to head towards their missions in Germany. Once the planes had crashed, the crews had to navigate marshy wetlands and Axis forces that patrolled around the major cities. Civilians and members of the numerous resistance groups tried to help the stranded airmen as often as possible. Robert Fortnam performed an emergency landing in the Zider Zee and managed to traverse the large irrigation canals with the help of a local man. While Fortnam was eventually caught in the city of Amsterdam, he had the kindness of a whistling man to help him avoid capture for three days.

Robert Grimes and his crew jumped from their plan as it crashed into a field in Belgium. Grimes was separated from his crew and was bleeding profusely from a bullet that had pierced his leg. He managed to stumble upon a Belgian woman, who begrudgingly decided to help him. Despite the threat of being killed if she were found to be assisting an American airman, the unnamed lady moved Grimes around the countryside and Brussels. As he moved around, Grimes interacted with doctors, nurses, and members of the Comte to help him make his way to freedom.

Photo Caption: reproduction photograph of Wagner with a young woman of the Belgian resistance. Her name is listed as Leonie Trenteseaux. James Wagner collection | National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Museum.
James M. Wagner was an airman that stayed with the Belgian Underground for over a month. While his story is brief, he managed to take photographs of the resistance members that helped him. These men and women kindly aided Wagner in his hour of need when it would have been just as easy to turn him into the Axis forces.  They chose to defy the easy path and instead strove to aid Wagner, and many other airmen evade capture. Their acts of compassion and bravery helped contribute to the overall war effort.

    To read more of their stories, follow the link below.

Humanity During War Section 4